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Default Prevention Act of 2013-- Motion to Proceed--

Floor Speech

Location: Washington, DC


Mr. HARKIN. Mr. President, I ask unanimous consent that the order for the quorum call be rescinded.

The PRESIDING OFFICER. Without objection, it is so ordered.

Mr. HARKIN. Mr. President, here we are, it is October 14, and the government has been shut down for 2 full weeks. We are about 3 days away from a debt ceiling deadline. I keep hearing rumors that a deal is close. I certainly hope that is true, that we do make some breakthroughs and we get through this impasse, but I have some observations on that, and I thought I might take a moment to set the record straight based on what I have been hearing over the weekend on some of the talk shows and some things that came out over the weekend.

In the last day or so there was talk about Democrats putting ``a new issue'' on the table, that Democrats are now putting sequestration on the table in these talks. Well, I don't know how anyone could think this is a new issue.

In March the Senate approved a budget that replaced sequestration with a mix of entitlement reform and revenue increases.

In April the President put forward a budget that replaced sequestration with again a mix of spending cuts and revenue increases.

Throughout the spring and summer the Appropriations Committee, on which I serve, debated and passed bills that conformed to the budget resolution replacing sequestration. Republicans in the House and Senate have taken part in this debate. Republicans on the Senate Appropriations Committee responded with a letter objecting to our policy of replacing the sequestration cuts.

The House passed its own budget, the Ryan budget, which also takes their position on sequestration. They even made it worse by preventing cuts in the military and taking all the rest out of nondefense discretionary spending. I know that sounds like a big word, but it is spending that comes out of things such as education and social services and health, NIH, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and all those other things.

Now, again, we heard a lot of talk by Republicans on the Senate side that we Democrats were violating the Budget Control Act by coming in at a higher level than what sequestration called for. At the same time, the Republicans on the House side violated the Budget Control Act by not taking 50-50. In other words, the Budget Control Act said that if sequestration goes into effect, then the cuts have to be made 50 percent from defense and 50 percent from nondefense. The Ryan budget--what they did in the House--left defense whole and took everything out of--as I said, everything else, mainly out of health, education, labor, and that pot of money.

So I guess you might ask whether both sides violated the Budget Control Act. No. Both sides had their approach on how to deal with the Budget Control Act. The Budget Control Act is not the Ten Commandments written in stone for all eternity. It is a law. And when we have laws around here, periodically, guess what. We change them or modify them, of course.

So the Budget Control Act was passed, the supercommittee was set up, it didn't hit its goals, so sequestration went into effect. Now that we have seen the disastrous consequences of sequestration for this year, those on my side of the aisle said: Well, look, it is time to get rid of sequestration, and let's make our decisions as legislators on how we want to spend the taxpayers' money and how we might want to raise revenues.

The Republicans on the House side--I don't say they violated anything, they just did their own thing. They said: To heck with the Budget Control Act. We don't want to take any money out of defense. We will leave that whole and take it out of everything else.

That would have been the proper time for the House and Senate Budget Committees to get together in a conference so they could work out their differences. But 19 times we have come to the floor to ask to go to conference on the budget, and 19 times the Republicans have refused to let us go to conference to even talk about it. So sequestration is the biggest difference between these two budgets.

I might add, with regard to the budget Mr. Ryan came up with in the House, the chairman of the House Appropriations Committee, a Republican, called it ``unworkable,'' for whatever that is worth.

Nonetheless, sequestration is the biggest difference between our two budgets. Again, that is why we asked to go to conference time and time again. So sequestration is not some kind of new issue. It is the issue of the year. It will be the issue of next year. Do we blindly cut everything? Sequestration is a blind cut of everything, even programs everyone here might agree are worthwhile and should be funded. But that is what we are elected to do. We are elected to make those kind of choices and work them out in a conference committee.

If you think sequestration is some kind of a new issue, I guess it is only a new issue if your memory is only 2 weeks long. If you know what has been going on for this year, sequestration is the major difference.

Two weeks ago Senate Democrats compromised in an attempt to keep the government open. How did we do that? We agreed to keep the government open for 6 weeks--at that time, until November 15--at the current levels, which included the sequestration cuts. It was not in our budget, but we agreed, to give us time before Christmas to go to conference and work out the differences. We passed it at the same level which was included in the continuing resolution passed by the House of Representatives. We agreed to compromise our level down to the House level for 6 weeks to keep the government open. We passed it and sent it over to the House. It has been sitting there ever since. Speaker Boehner will not permit it to come to the floor for a vote. Why? Perhaps he knows if he brings it up for a vote, it will pass and the President will sign it.

Instead, they began this by saying we had to change ObamaCare. We had to make changes in the Affordable Care Act--which has nothing to do with this budget, by the way. That didn't work. So now they have shifted to a whole bunch of other demands. And we have never really gone to conference. What the Republicans are now saying is we should give up a whole year. Forget about the budget resolution we passed here, and agree to what they passed in the House for the next year without even going to conference.

So first the Republicans in the House won't agree to negotiate on the budget unless we agree to their top priority--no revenue increases. Then Republicans insist upon shutting down the government to stop ObamaCare. Now this weekend Republicans have been saying they won't agree to reopen government or lift the debt ceiling until Democrats agree to the total spending level in the Ryan budget. This is truly unprecedented.

We heard over and over Republicans wanted the Democrats to produce a budget. We did. Now they are doing everything in their power to avoid discussing our budget. But what is truly incredible is that Republicans want the world to believe Democrats agreeing to a compromise for 6 weeks was an agreement to give up our entire budget for the whole next year. I don't know why the press is playing into this. They seem to be saying it is tit for tat. It is one side; it is the other.

No, it is not. We agreed to 6 weeks. Now the House says that we must agree to it for 1 year. That was never part of our budget we sent to the House. So that is not a compromise.

I will happily vote for a bill that extends the current level for 6 weeks or so. We have already voted for that. The House wanted 10 weeks. But I think a debate over whether to keep or change sequestration for the year--which is the entire debate between the Senate and the House budget resolution--is too important to be used as a bargaining chip for basic government operations.

I didn't watch the Sunday shows. I rarely ever do. I have better things to do on Sunday. But I couldn't help but read the paper this morning, and there was a statement in the paper made by the senior Senator from Arizona. I guess he was on a talk show, and they were quoting him.

Senator McCain said: I guess we could go lower in the polls. Right now we are down to blood relatives and paid staffers.

That is kind of cute. And I am quoting the newspapers, so I don't know if he said it this way or not. He said: But we have got to turn this around and the Democrats had better help us.

What does that mean? They are the ones that shut the government down. As I said, there is a bill before the House right now. If the Speaker would put it on the floor, it would open the government. We passed that here. We helped them. We agreed to their level for 6 weeks. How much more help do they need?

The more I read about this in the print and watch the news programs, the more it becomes clear to me there is an attitude being pushed by the Republicans that if they agree to reopen the government and if they agree to extend the debt limit, they are doing us Democrats a favor. Read between the lines. It is like they are doing us a big favor to do this. Therefore, we have to give them all these concessions because they are doing us a favor.

I tell my Republican friends, they are not doing us Democrats a favor whatsoever. If they agree to reopen the government and extend the debt limit, they are doing the Nation a favor, not the Democrats. So get that out of your head that somehow, because you are willing to do that, we have to give concessions on something else. We can talk about concessions, and we can talk about sequestration and other budgets when we go to conference--if they will let us go to conference. Nineteen times they have opposed us going to conference. But talking about concessions now as a means of reopening government or extending the debt limit--that shouldn't even be a part of the equation. Somehow the press continues to report this as a legitimate demand on the part of Republicans; that if we want to open the government, then they get to demand certain concessions. Why is that legitimate? The legitimate thing is to reopen the government. It is very simple.

Other people have come to the floor to talk about the impact of sequestration, and I thought I would just take a moment again--I did the other day, I will do it again today, and I will continue to do this--to alert people as to what another year of sequestration would mean for programs which come under the jurisdiction of the Appropriations Subcommittee on Labor, Health and Human Services, Education, and Related Agencies, which I have been privileged to chair or be the ranking member of since 1989. Here is what would happen next year if we continued sequestration: Some 177,000 fewer children will get Head Start services. Maybe that is not your kid or my grandkids. Everybody here has plenty of money. But it affects a lot of low-income families in this country.

And 1.3 million fewer students would get title I education assistance--no kids of anybody in this body or the House, none of our grandkids. We have plenty of money. But low-income families all across this country, in urban areas as well as rural, get title I assistance.

And 760,000 fewer households will receive heating or cooling assistance under what we call LIHEAP, Low Income Heating and Energy Assistance Program. Again, it won't affect anybody in this body, it won't affect anybody in the House, and probably none of our families. But it will affect 760,000 households with an elderly person without much money, maybe just living off a Social Security check and nothing else.

Special education programs under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act. We fund a portion which goes out to the States. By sequestration, the less money we put out will mean 9,000 special education staff will be cut from classrooms. Maybe the States will come up with the money. Maybe local taxpayers will come up with the money. I am just saying, under sequestration we will not be paying for 9,000 special education teachers and staff.

Sequestration next year means $291 million less for child care subsidies for working families. These are families that go to work every day, and many are single parents. These are low-paying jobs, and the only way they can go to work is to have some kind of child care subsidy, and $291 million will be taken out of that. Again, it won't affect anybody here.

Two billion dollars less for the National Institutes of Health. That is 1,300 fewer research grants next year. Which one of those grants will lead to breakthrough discoveries in medicine and cures?

We have a fraud and abuse program in Medicare. It recovers $7.90 for every $1 we appropriate. A lot of that comes because of overcharges from drug companies. We have seen cases in Wisconsin and a number of other States with huge settlements because the drug companies were overcharging. For every $1 that we put in, we recover $7.90. Because of the cut, because of sequestration, we will lose about $2.7 billion next year in funds that we would assume we would get back. Aside from that, drug companies know we won't have enough cops on the beat, and that will be an excuse for them to just start overcharging again.

So those are just a few of the things that will happen if we continue sequestration. There are probably some on the other side who just don't care. For example, one Member of the House Republican caucus asked Representative Bachmann about the government shut down, and she said: We are very excited. It is exactly what we wanted, and we got it.

Then there is Representative Culberson who reportedly said: It is wonderful. We are 100 percent united.

What are they excited about? They are excited about the government shutdown. They are probably excited about sequestration. They are excited about hundreds of thousands of low-income kids not getting Head Start. They are excited about low-income families not getting heating and cooling assistance. They are excited that special education teachers will be cut. They are excited about this.

This is their vision of America.

The tea party had some big gathering here in Washington the last few days. I happened to be reading about it. There was one woman there talking to reporters. She said we need to go back to the late 1800s in this country when we grew our own vegetables.

I thought to myself, fine. If you want to, you can do that. There is nothing restricting her from going out and living without electricity or running water, health care. She can go find a cabin someplace in the woods, I suppose, have a little plot of land, grow her vegetables, do her own canning. You can do that, if you like.

But why does she insist that we all want to do that? I don't think a lot of people want to go back to the late 1800s in this country. Think of what life was like then: child labor, people working 60, 70 hours a week, no minimum wage, no Social Security, no Medicare, no education for a lot of low-income kids. If you had money, you were fine. Disease was rampant--polio, measles, smallpox. That was the late 1800s. That is what the tea party wants. They want to go back to that. They keep up this hue and cry about that; things have just gotten out of hand.

Things have not gotten out of hand. We are a big country. We are a big nation--powerful, big. We have a lot of economic assets, but we have a lot of human assets too. We have to take care not just of the economic assets but our human assets as well. There are no economic assets without human assets. We need to invest in our people and not listen to those who want to turn the clock back to the 1800s. That is what sequestration would start to do. It would start to turn the clock back--oh, maybe not to the 1800s--I don't want to exaggerate--but certainly before the Great Society and certainly, probably, even before the New Deal. They do want to get rid of Social Security. They do want to get rid of Medicare.

I guess Grover Norquist, who is sort of their patron saint, said: We want to reduce the size of government so small we can drown it in the bathtub. That is what they want. That is their vision of America. That is their vision of our future.

I am hoping we do reach some agreements and we can get out of this. But the Republicans have dug themselves in this hole, not us. Now they say they want us to help them. We already have. We passed a bill and sent it to the House to open the government. We now have before us, as we did on Saturday, a bill to extend the debt limit without strings attached until December 2014. Every single Republican voted against even going to that bill to even discuss it on Saturday. I opened the newspapers on Sunday to read about it, and there is very little talk about that. Is there something I missed? Did we not have a vote here on Saturday on a motion to proceed to raising the debt limit for 1 year--just to go to the bill so we can discuss it? People could offer amendments. Every single Republican voted against even going to that bill, even discussing it.

We have thrown plenty of lifelines out there. If what the senior Senator from Arizona meant by ``help'' is that we have to give up on everything in terms of our budget, sequestration, all that other stuff, that is nonsense. I made a counterproposal. I said if they are going to keep putting all that stuff on there as conditions, we ought to start putting conditions on it too.

If they want some help, how about raising the minimum wage right now? That would be something we could do. Wouldn't that be neat? If they want to reopen the government and extend the debt ceiling, let's raise the minimum wage right now for people in this country. I would put that on the table right now. I would put on the table that we need to put more money into special education to help our local taxpayers and more money, certainly, into early childhood education. Maybe those are the things we ought to put on the table, saying: If you want help, agree to these things. I will not go there. But if they continue to push this idea, if the Republicans continue to push this idea that somehow we have to capitulate on everything else, then I think we just throw these things on the table and say: OK, you want us to agree to that? You agree to this. We will have a little tit-for-tat on that and see how far it goes.

That is why this whole talk about giving up on sequestration and budget matters is a nonstarter. Open the government--very simple. Extend the debt limit--very simple. Then go to conference and talk about this. That is the way out of this. That is the real, adult, democratic--with a small ``d''--way out of this mess. I call upon the Republicans not to do us a favor. Do the country a favor.

I yield the floor.


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